Children Will Listen

JON_3833I remember my interview for Explore It! well. It was September 2012, and I had just moved to the city. Director Liz Hamilton sat across from me, and she paused before asking, somewhat leadingly… almost coyly, if I had ever done any musical theatre.

“Oh sure,” I replied nonchalantly.

“Would you be comfortable putting on a full production?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, I’ve done tons of stuff like that before.”

While certainly none of that was a lie — I had put together massive and miniscule productions with friends, with children, and with colleagues — nothing could have prepared me for the 2 years that followed — the musicals, the marketing, the social media and the supervising with Explore It! Inc.

I start here, because I recently read that sometimes, it’s good to start at the beginning. I could also have started in rehearsal for The Sound of Music just a couple of weeks ago. It was just before the beginning of class. Feeling tired, I muttered to a coworker that I just needed something to kick me out of this low energy slump. Just then I felt something hit me sharply (but not too sharply) from behind me. It was one of our littlest actresses; a grade two who was playing Gretle, the littlest Von Trapp — she has just kicked me playfully! When I turned around, surprised, she simply said “you said you wanted someone to kick you!”

Careful what you say, children will listen.

This moment seems the perfect metaphor for how working with Explore It! and children affects my daily life. It’s the kick in the pants that I need to keep awake, keep alive, keep active, and keep happy. Through the Explore It! philosophy of learning through play, and Safety First, Fun Always, I find I’m never scolding the students. Mostly, I am just plain having fun and learning along side them.

These past two years at Explore It!  I’ve been a part of the Explore It! Musical Theatre Programme (with help from a stellar team and all the strengths of our Director, Liz), directing a collection of fantastic musicals (Cats, Into the Woods, Oliver and Sound of Music). I’ve also taught other performing arts and craft programs, like Songwriting, Puppet Making, Duct Tape Art, and Rainbow Loom. This past year, I was invited to become a Senior Instructor, as well as Explore It’s first Social Media Coordinator (although I prefer the title of Wizard!). It was great fun, as I got to move from class to class, tweeting, facebooking and Instagraming the fun, wild and wonderful things our instructors do with all of our incredible students.

It’s amazing what I’ve learned this year alone. I’ve learned how to rainbow loom. I’ve learned how to make a really cool wallet out of duct tape. I’ve learned the words to every single song in The Sound of Music and Oliver. I’ve also learned different and exciting teaching tips and activities from the classes I’ve supervised. I’ve learned to trust myself as a singing coach and (sometimes even) a choreographer. I’ve learned the fun of the callback, sing-a-longs, and cheers. I’ve learned class room management skills and the power of laughing it off. I’ve learned that to be a good teacher I need to be a good person, and to act with integrity. I need to believe in my skills, and in the skills of my students. I need to put in the time, and energy and focus to run my classes as best I can, and if I do that, the kids will pay me back three-fold.

Talking just today with an instructor, she told me how proud she was of her students, who has just performed their magic show the day before. While this is a class she has taught before, and one that she will teach again, it was inspiring to see how this singular experience — this show, with these kids — was different. This is the atmosphere I want to be in, as an educator, as an animator, and a student myself. The best teachers are the ones that keep learning from their mistakes and of course — from their students. Explore It! — with their flexible programs, and their acceptance and inclusion of  different styles of teaching, encourages at an atmosphere of learning — from each other, from our superiors, from Liz and Randy, and of course, from the kids.

What I like about Explore It!, is that, at the end of the day, we are encouraged to listen, learn and laugh like children.